White House says we're in a 'narrative battle' with ISIS
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said yesterday that the war against the Islamic State is a "narrative battle."
Brought on to discuss the bombings in New York and New Jersey and the possible connections to international terrorism, Earnest cautioned against painting with a “broad brush” regarding terrorism and Islam.
“When it comes to ISIL, we are in a fight, a narrative fight with them, a narrative battle, and what ISIL wants to do is they want to project that they are an organization that is representing Islam in a fight and a war against the West, and a war against the United States,” he said. “That is a bankrupt, false narrative. It’s a mythology, and we have made progress in debunking that mythology.”
After laying out advances made militarily against ISIS, which the Obama administration calls ISIL, Earnest again repeated the U.S. had made progress in “debunking this mythology.”
“We can’t play into this narrative that somehow the United States or the West is fighting against the Muslim religion,” he said. “The fact is there are millions of patriotic Muslims in this country right now that make our country proud. They serve in our armed services. They serve in our law enforcement … These are individuals who make a substantial and positive contribution to our country, and that is an inconvenient fact for the ISIL narrative.”
Earnest used a similar line earlier on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, saying the fight against ISIS was in some ways “just a war of narratives.”
Let's not completely jump down Earnest's throat. He is partially right. The "hearts and minds" argument revolves somewhat, at least, around competing narratives – with ISIS in an ascendant position due to reflexive anti-Americanism among most Muslims.
But if we're going to fight ISIS only on that level, we're a sure loser, as one wag on Twitter pointed out:
"We fight them in the paragraphs, we will fight them in the subtext, we will fight them in the footnote, we will... https://t.co/CRoJgSoUwm— Dan Ornelas (@DanielMOrnelas) September 19, 2016
I have seen zero evidence that we are "debunking" the ISIS narrative, and there is some indication that hatred in the Muslim world of the U.S. is growing. This is partially due to the Obama administration throwing longtime allies like Saudi Arabia under the bus by allowing Iran to maintain a robust nuclear program. But in places like Pakistan, where our drone program killed about a thousand civilians in the last seven years, the hate is palpable, and it has radically affected our relationship with the Pakistanis.
The White House would prefer to fight a "hearts and minds" war against ISIS because we have been ineffective in our bombing campaign. As propaganda, fighting the narrative war works with many Americans. But to eradicate ISIS, it's going to take a lot more in the military theater than we've been doing.